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How to Succeed in Crappie Tournaments

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"Have you ever noticed whether it be a local Club Tournament, Regional Tournament, and even the Pro Tournaments that you see a hand full of the same teams consistently placed in 'Top 10' or 'In-The-Money'?  Or why teams who does well at certain lakes and not others?  Or when while you’re driving home after fishing some of these tournaments without much success you ask yourselves 'What are these teams doing so different than what we're doing?'  There are many different reasons for these same teams to consistently 'Place in the money' fishing Crappie Tournaments. I hope that I can help you with some 'insight' on what keeps some of these teams successful, and some tips to give you the edge you need to succeed in crappie tournaments."

   The most important step to help you succeed in tournaments is "Tournament Preparation".  This means to learn everything you can about crappie and their behavior, studying lake maps for "hot-spots",  finding out what the main food forage is, what the hot color patterns are, etc...
   By understanding what crappie does during different situations and using these 3 key elements related to some of the situations or conditions listed below should help you begin the preparation for the "Pre-Fishing" period of a Tournament and the start of putting a "Game-Plan" together.

Water Clarity
Water Temperature
Water Oxygen Content
Daily Conditions
Pressure Changes
Weather Fronts
Natural Forage
Water Depth

   This can be done properly by first obtaining a topo map of the waters that you will be fishing.  By understanding how to read a map related to crappie fishing, you can just about "Pre-Fish" that body of water just by knowing where the Channels, Drops, Humps, Shallows, Flats, Depth, Points, Structures, and other structures are.  Combine that information along with the understanding of the conditions mentioned above will help you to eliminate at least 2/3 of water, and key on the areas that would relate to crappie to greatly increase your chances of catching your limit.   Another way to get familiarized with the water is to fish with a guide or a local fisherman LONG before the tournament takes place on that lake.  The reason for that is because most tournament rules will not allow this in a certain number of days prior to the tournament.  IMPORTANT: READ ALL TOURNAMENT RULES AND REGULATIONS before preparing for that tournament. 

   Probably one of the best ways to learn the color and bait patterns of any given body of water would be to visit as many "Bait & Tackle" retailers in the area as possible.  Ask the retailer what's the best bait and colors now.  Most of them will be happy to give you the reports in hopes of you buying some lures and baits there.  While there, also look and see what baits and colors are being sold the most off the shelves. If you visit several of these retailers you should be able to get a very good idea of what colors and baits to use pre-fishing based on the averages of all these different places combined.

   One of the best ways we’ve found some great "Honey Holes" in the past is just by observing the local fishermen.  While you are on the water pre-fishing and see a boat sitting in one spot for a while, just move off in a distance and watch.  Remember, some of these locals have fished these waters all their life and are not sitting in areas just to eat lunch!  Also, while you're fishing and a local fisherman comes along on a dock or boat, it never hurt to ask him or her for information.  If they are hesitant to give you information, just simply ask how deep they are catching them, whats the main species in that lake (black or white crappie) and how big do they get in that lake.  At lakes where the larger species is black crappie, don't expect to win by catching white crappie & you'll also have an idea what the normal size crappie is in that lake and go for bigger ones.

   Putting a game plan together for a tournament can make or break most of the teams in the field. The biggest problem of most teams when tournament fishing is not sticking to a game plan.  After you gathered all the information from the items I mentioned above, find out what the weather conditions will be on "Tournament Day".  Then sit down and plan accordingly.   Also when making your game plan, select an area where you won’t have to run miles and miles to secondary spots. Try to keep at least 3 or 4 alternate spots within a few minutes of each other.  As I mentioned before, try to eliminate 2/3 of water and stick to areas where your chances of catching crappie is located.  REMEMBER: STICK WITH YOUR GAME PLAN.   If you are in an area where you caught fish before with no luck, why leave?  Give a spot some time.  The biggest part of pre-fishing is locating fish right? So don’t just give a spot a few minutes then leave.  You'll just waste more time moving and less time fishing.  We’ve sat on certain spots for a couple of hours without as much as a bite, then all of a sudden they turn on and we’ve caught limits just by waiting them out.   Sometimes by changing colors, bait, or technique does the trick.  Alot of times we move to the next cover several feet away and find a school, so if and when you do leave, don't go far.   Most times, we come back to that first spot a few hours later and catch some of our best fish.  Use every minute wisely.  Keep in mind, you only need to catch 7-8 fish in 8 hours.  Catch your limit, then go for the bigger ones.

   Nothing is more frustrating than having boat problems during pre-fishing or tournament.  This can ruin your game plan and miss the weigh-in.  Everyone is going to experience problems on the water, it's guaranteed.   But don't ever skip this step; check and repair any possible problems so you're not beat before you even get to the lake.   Doing preventive maintenance and checks will greatly decrease your chances of encountering problems on the water.   Also: KEEP YOUR BOAT ORGANIZED.  Keeping your boat organized will give you and your partner more time fishing and less stressful.  Set up your boat to however you're going to fish.  For example: If you're going to slow-troll for crappie, set up for you and your partner to fish effectively from the front of the boat.  Locate a place where you can grab the net quickly. Put tackle boxes, pliers, drinks, etc... in areas where you can easily find and to not trip over them.  When one gets a bite, the other grabs the net and haul it in. Then the guy with the net puts the fish in the livewell while the other re-baits his hook and watch the other poles.  Simple as that.

   The secret of placing their own man-made cover is how most teams consistently finish "in-the-money" at certain lakes every year.  Not only does it help give crappie more cover to hide in, but helps the team cut preparation time in half.  Sinking cover is no picnic, but the rewards are definitely worth the effort. Placing cover in areas with few scattered cover or none at all and at several depths will help you locate and catch crappie no matter what the weather.  For example, placing shallow cover (up to 10 feet) is good for spring and fall, brushpiles in deeper water (20-30 feet or more) is productive in the summer and winter, and brush in mid-depth water (10-20 feet) will produce any time of the year. 

Areas to consider are:
Large flats with little or no cover
Top of small humps
Inside and outside bends in deep main channels
Along dropoffs
Intersections of main and creek channels
Along mouths of bays and coves
Shallow flats close to deep water

   Also consider the elements when placing the cover such as wind, sun, & currents.  Place cover in several areas to ensure that you have a windbreak in every direction to help with boat control & keeping baits in front of fish.

   Whether you're fishing in a tournament or not, preparing your game plan and sticking to it will give you amazing results on the water!

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